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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla -- Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work he
Joe Schott's day begins in front of what looks like a giant
forest. He's dressed for work in a white cotton shirt and green
khakis, kind of like a park ranger. But it's quite obvious from the
endless stream of families hopping off buses and trams -- and the
Mickey Mouse ears every other kid is wearing -- that this is no
Schott is a Disney castmember: an employee of Walt Disney World
and, more specifically, an attractions manager at Disney World's
newest theme park, Disney's Animal Kingdom.
Most of the time Schott is responsible for the attractions, cast
and guests in Asia -- an area of the park where the rides and
stores are devoted to Asian animals and culture -- but he and
several other managers trade off the "duty manager" shift, the
manager in charge of the entire Animal Kingdom. This morning,
Schott is the Animal Kingdom's head honcho.
But though it's a job with lots of different responsibilities,
Schott makes it look like fun. After all, this is Disney.
"Part of my role is to make sure everything looks perfect, from
a guest's perspective, to make sure everything is meshed together,"
he explains. And to get that perspective he goes around the park
like a guest: he rides the rides, eats the food, browses in the
stores. Schott's job is, at least partly, a walk in the park.
7:30 a.m. -- Schott's job can begin as early as
6:30 a.m. By now he's standing in front of the main gates of the
Animal Kingdom. The gates will open promptly at 8 a.m., but the
entrance already is buzzing with early-bird families. Disney
doesn't release attendance figures for any of their parks, but
Schott said Animal Kingdom gets about as many visitors per year as
Disney's MGM Studios.
Schott is responsible for two types of guests: people guests and
animal guests. Unlike the other Disney parks, the attractions at
the Animal Kingdom include live animals. "[At the other parks] it's
mechanical things: you know where they are, how they work, and if
they break you know how to fix them," Schott says. "Not so here.
You have to find ways to make the animals comfortable and provide
the guests with an experience."
In between sentences Schott calls out, "Namaste! Good
morning!" to passing guests and castmembers. "Namaste" is a local
greeting in Nepal and India, he explains. "It means, 'I salute the
spirit within you.' "
7:50 a.m. -- Time to get ready. Schott unlocks
a huge green gate and slips into the park. After threading through
a lush green landscape and saying good morning to a trio of macaws,
Schott takes his place in front of the giant Tree of Life, the
park's focal point.
8 a.m. -- The welcome address, blasted over the
loudspeakers, means the entrances are open and guests are flooding
the park. It'll take the guests about 10 minutes to get over here,
he predicts, and they'll go to the Kilimanjaro Safari.
8:10 a.m. -- The first families appear.
Everyone makes a beeline for the Safari.
Schott heads to the Safari, too. He wants to see how the
attraction is operating this morning. "Jambo!" Schott
greets the castmembers in Swahili.
8:30 a.m. -- Schott hops into the next Safari
jeep. During the trek, Schott looks as carefree as the other
guests, but he's working: He keeps his eyes peeled for potential
problems and notes some overhanging brush should be cleared to give
guests a better view of the savanna. Behind him the guests ooh and
ahh every time they see an animal, and this morning there are many:
"Giraffes!" "Hippos!" "Lions!" Cameras are whirring. Schott looks
pleased with the Safari. "So far, this is exactly how I thought
this should be," he says.
8:45 a.m. -- Outside the ride, guests are
snapping pictures of a huge gorilla. "This is the bachelor group,"
Schott explains as he gestures to the gorillas. "When they get
older they'll challenge the big silverback." He talks loudly enough
for people to overhear, and soon he's taking questions from some of
9 a.m. -- Schott wears a pager, walkie-talkie
and a Secret Service-style earpiece, and he's receiving messages
constantly. Disney can predict how many guests they'll have in a
day, and managers have to keep track of numbers to make sure
attractions don't get overcrowded. Crowd control is a running theme
in a manager's mind. "Wait-time equals satisfaction," Schott says
emphatically. He stops to pick up a discarded price tag and throws
it in a nearby trash can.
9:30 a.m. -- "We'll make sure things are
humming this morning," Schott says as he breezes through a souvenir
shop. He greets the store manager. "The penny-smashing machine out
there has a paper 'out of order' sign," Schott points out. The
manager says the problem is being fixed. "Okay, good," Schott says.
"Well, let's at least replace that paper sign with something
"I expect to see the store managers on the floor. I expect to
see the restaurant managers in the kitchens, or in the restaurant,"
Schott says as he leaves the store. "The attractions managers, they
could be anywhere. That's why we keep them on radio."
He ducks into a restaurant where an outside, glass display case
is fogging up; the manager is in the kitchen, and Schott nods
approvingly. The display is a good way to get morning guests
thinking about where they might eat later, so it's important for
guests to see the food inside the display. Schott and the manager
discuss defogging techniques. "I'll revisit this one," Schott
9:50 a.m. -- Outside, a Tigger castmember is
dancing with some of the young guests. But this is the Animal
Kingdom. Where's Simba?
Schott's just leaving the restaurant when he gets an important
message about the "Festival of the Lion King" show: It's been
delayed. "10-4, what's the reason for the delay?" he says into the
walkie-talkie as he strides over to Camp Minnie-Mickey.
10 a.m. -- The show has been delayed 15 minutes
because two male leads called in sick. The stage manager assures
Schott that he has replacements rushing in from other areas of
As the stage manager notifies the crowd of the delay Schott
makes a few phone calls from the theater's control booth. He's
notified that the line at the Safari now has a 45-minute wait.
Schott radios for new park capacity counts.
10:13 a.m. -- On his way over to the Safari,
Schott gets a message that "Festival of the Lion King" has started.
By the time he gets to the Safari more jeeps have been added, and
the line is thinning out. The capacity counts are on target with
what Disney projected for the day. "I think what we saw this
morning is just more people in a concentrated group," Schott
10:20 a.m. -- Schott pops into his office -- a
trailer behind the park -- for a meeting with Stacey Smith, the
park's industrial engineer, to look at maps of the park and
pinpoint areas where guest traffic could be streamlined.
10:45 a.m. -- By now the park is in full swing.
Families in tank tops, shorts and water bottles are sitting down
for the "Tarzan Rocks!" show in DinoLand. Several families are
leaving early. Schott says a castmember at the exit will ask
walkouts why they've left, and Disney can use the feedback to make
changes to the show's format. "This is an example of where we need
to tighten up the show," he says as more people get up to
But most people are staying and rocking along with Tarzan and
Jane. "This is what it's all about here," Schott says as he motions
to a dancing kid, a little girl with the name "Brittany" painted on
her shirt. "If Brittany's having a good time, her parents are along
for the ride."
11 a.m. -- People at the Tarzan show will head
to the Dinosaur ride next, Schott predicts, and he walks over to
the ride to make sure the cast there is preparing for the barrage
of families. The cast is adding an extra car to the thrill ride,
and Schott oversees the addition from the control booth.
Satisfied everything there is moving smoothly, Schott pops in at
an otter training session. The trainers take him behind the otters'
habitat to watch.
11:30 a.m. -- The midday temperature is in the
high 80s, and the humidity is oppressive, but it doesn't seem to be
affecting Schott. "They have great barbecue here," he remarks at
the Flame Tree Grill. He picks a secluded seat under a ceiling
The restaurant's cashier reminds Schott to "have a wild day."
These type of remarks are called "rolling the show," Schott
explains, and these subtle remarks keep the guests reminded of the
special Animal Kingdom experience.
12:30 p.m. -- Schott's shift as the duty
manager is over, and Steve Riggs, who's pulled up a chair at the
lunch table, will handle the afternoon. Schott rattles off a
rundown of the morning's events. "The entrance experience was good;
the Safari, I've got grooming tips for 'em; [parking] counts not
coming as frequently as they should..." Schott says the otter
trainers should try to make the training more of a guest
experience. "It was cool, but there's a level, and then there's a
Disney level," he says. Riggs nods.
1 p.m. -- The rest of the afternoon Schott will
spend working as the attractions manager in Asia and on internal
Disney issues. There's the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's
conference, which Disney is hosting, and he has some meetings with
As he heads over to Asia, Schott's manager uniform makes him an
instant target for questions, and he gives each family his full
attention. One father wants to know where a good lunch spot is.
"Right over there's the Flame Tree Grill," Schott says. "Their
The family hesitates and checks their Animal Kingdom map, but
their son is convinced. "Let's go there, he says it's awesome," he
points out. Schott grins as he walks off to visit the tigers.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Joe Schott is among those few in the
travel industry whose boss is a 4-foot-tall talking mouse.
Schott, an Orlando native, started his Disney career in 1981,
when he worked as a cruise guide at the Jungle Cruise in Disney's
Magic Kingdom. After working at Epcot Center, Disney's Wide World
of Sports and Disneyland Paris, he came to the Animal Kingdom in
1997 as the project coordinator for Asia, and he spent three months
coordinating the park's grand-opening ceremonies in 1998.
Schott said that to get the position at Animal Kingdom, "I had
to compete with some of whom I consider among the best in the
business. I wanted to come to Animal Kingdom because, first and
foremost, I have a love for animals. And it was a new and exciting
project where I had an opportunity to own and operate my area.
"Leadership plays a key role," he added. "I felt had a good
chance to learn quite a bit from this group of managers."
As an attractions manager, Schott said he makes above $50,000 a
year. "But not that much more," he said with a smile.
Schott estimated that close to 3,000 castmembers work in the
Animal Kingdom; he's responsible for about 500 employees in Asia.
Many employees are part of an international study program.
When Disney hires new castmembers, Schott said, "they're looking
for someone with a nice warm smile; someone who's animated,
outgoing, who has a real need to give exceptional service.
"For example, with the cultural reps, one thing we would ask is,
'You're going to live in an Olympic village-style setup... what's
the way you would explain your culture best to an American
roommate,' and have them go through the conversation."
Animal Kingdom presents unique problems because of the
approximately 2,000 animals that live there. Schott said the
animals get the finest care possible: Disney employs their own
veterinarians and operates their own animal hospital. They even
grow some indigenous food on property.
"I think [the job] changed my perspective in how I view the
world," Schott said. "I find myself... talking to people about
various issues that they would not be informed about.
"The most exciting thing about it is watching it all happen and
seeing your hard work translate into an experience for